Reproduced from Abortion is a Blessing by Anne Nicol Gaylor.
(This chapter first appeared as part of an article in the July, 1971, ZPG National Reporter. Originally titled "Abortion in Wisconsin?", it is reprinted with permission.)
IN THE FACE OF ... HOSTILITY, and almost in the shadow of the Capitol, one courageous doctor chose to open an outpatient abortion facility. Dr. Alfred L. Kennan, a gynecologist, resigned his academic post as professor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in January, 1971, and on February 1 opened Wisconsin's first outpatient clinic, the Midwest Medical Center in Madison.
The legal basis for his action was a decision of a three judge federal court, sitting in Milwaukee, which had said in March, 1970, that the state of Wisconsin could not deprive a woman of making her private decision on whether or not to carry an unquickened fetus. The court followed its decision some months later with a permanent injunction, saying that the state of Wisconsin might not prosecute "any Wisconsin doctor" for performing abortions in early pregnancy. This injunction, upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, seemed a plausible legal basis for proceeding.
Soon after its opening in February, the clinic was booked three weeks ahead, about as far ahead as abortion appointments realistically can be made. About a hundred patients a week were accepted, also a maximum for a one-doctor clinic. Although there were rumblings of official and unofficial displeasure, including a march on the Dane County District Attorney's office by a group of so-called "right-to-lifers," demanding that the clinic be closed, it operated unmolested for two and one-half months.
Then, quite suddenly, on Monday, April 19, at three o'clock in the afternoon, several policemen and women descended on the clinic. Bursting into offices and procedure rooms, they grabbed all records and equipment, and forcibly took with them a terrified seventeen-year-old girl, ignoring a clinic counselor's plea that she be allowed to accompany her. Asked if they were arresting the girl, they said they were, and she was taken to a Madison hospital where she was forcibly examined against her will. Minors in Wisconsin have no rights.
Although the raid was conducted on Monday, formal, charges were not made until late Wednesday, when Dr. Kennan, two nurses, and the Center's two counselors were charged with criminal abortion.
The clinic's phones were wild on Tuesday with all five lines tied up by patients trying to check appointments and asking what they should do. Eight or nine women came in to the clinic with their friends or family on Tuesday, unaware of the raid. One of the first patients had been driving since three o'clock in the morning to be on time for her appointment. An afternoon patient had driven from the Mankato area in Minnesota, some 300 miles away. None of the patients could be notified by the clinic in advance, because the appointment book had been taken in the raid. Over 300 women had made appointments.
The raid was ordered by Dane County District Attorney Gerald Nichol, on the basis of a complaint by a Minnesota woman. The woman had phoned Madison police the week before to say she believed her runaway daughter was on her way to Madison for an abortion. Madison policemen picked up the girl and her friend after they left the clinic on the Friday before the raid, taking them to the station for questioning. A search-and-seizure warrant was then secured in county court and the raid was on.
Liberal Madison was stunned and angered. Even many who had not spoken previously for abortion condemned the ruthless tactics utilized in the raid. An editor of Madison's liberal newspaper, the Capital Times, pointed out that the clinic was not a hidey-hole operation, but an open, aboveboard, highly visible clinic, providing safe abortions done by an eminently qualified specialist in pleasant supportive surroundings.
A rally outside the district attorney's office at noon on the day following the raid drew 200 people, many of them ZPG'ers. On Thursday, the day of the arraignment of the clinic's personnel, about 350 supporters of the clinic were on hand, at ZPG's behest, to continue the peaceful protest.
Groups of doctors, medical students, nursing students, and clergymen joined to sign and release formal publicized protests. ZPG petitions circulated and rapidly were filled.
New York clinics stretched crowded calendars to take dozens of the clinic's cancelled patients, with rates adjusted in many cases.
And then, the Monday after the raid, the action moved to Federal Judge James Doyle's court where Dr. Kennan had applied on April 20 for injunctive relief. Judge Doyle heard arguments for an order to restrain the state from prosecution of the clinic staff, and to convene a three-judge federal panel to hear the case. A pregnant woman, who had an appointment at the clinic, joined in with a legal class action on behalf of all women who had planned to use the clinic.Spectators overflowed all chairs and benches and were allowed to take seats in the jury box. The audience was orderly except at two points--once when District Attorney Gerald Nichol entered the courtroom (what did he expect?), and again when an assistant attorney general, Mary Bowman (can she be for real?) said: "If giving birth to unwanted children is irreparable harm, then women in Wisconsin and all over the country have been surviving it for over 120 years."
There was an air of buoyancy in the courtroom at the close of the proceedings. Judge Doyle's kind manner and his words "You will have my decision by noon tomorrow", sent clinic-boosters home to sleep well for the first time since the raid.
He didn't quite make his noon deadline, but it didn't matter because Judge Doyle's decision was to restrain the state from its prosecution, order the equipment returned to the clinic, and call for the three-judge panel to rule on the law.
Friends of the clinic didn't get a chance to celebrate however, because other legal actions followed before the clinic could open, including an effort by the State Board of Medical Examiners (in effect, an arm of the attorney general) to suspend Dr. Kennan's license, a civil action instigated by the attorney general and filed in county court, and a try by the city to keep the clinic closed on a zoning charge. These legal obstacles took a few weeks to beat down, with able assists from Judge Doyle in the form of restraining orders. The clinic finally reopened on May 24, 1971.
Its future is very uncertain, but its past is clearly quite noble, and ZPG-Wisconsin gave its Humanitarian Award, 1971, to Dr. Alfred L. Kennan for "his courage and compassion in founding the Midwest Medical Center."
Back to the Table of Contents.